Sting at 71: Music as lifesaver to a fan from the ’80s 2
AGELESS: Sting in concert at the Theater at Solaire with back-up vocalists Gene Noble, Melissa Musique, and Shane Sager (who also played harmonica). Photo by Jasper Lucena, Live Nation Philippines

Sting at 71: Music as lifesaver to a fan from the ’80s

The recent Sting concert sparked a trip down memory lane for a college barkada who never lost their faith in the Englishman’s music
Pocholo Concepcion | Mar 29 2023

The music of Sting — as leader of The Police and as a solo artist — figured prominently in the lives of Filipino teens, including a college barkada in the 1980s that was into punk rock, new wave, and reggae, and which later followed the British singer-songwriter’s jazz journey in the ’90s.

To recall, a few months into 1981, The Police released its fourth studio album, Ghosts in the Machine. The same year, the barkada — composed of batch mates from grade school at Colegio San Agustin and high school at La Salle Green Hills, plus guys from Ateneo, San Beda, Don Bosco, among other schools — congregated on the benches at De La Salle University in between classes to talk about common interests, especially music and all albums of The Police.

Songs from Ghosts in the Machine, like “Spirits in the Material World” and “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic,” as well as previous Police tracks, blasted on car radios at the DLSU parking lot.

Some of the lyrics and the cynicism in “Spirits…” (“There is no political solution / To our troubled evolution…”), captured the mood of the times.  

And then, two years later, Synchronicity dropped — hitting the college buddies hard. In a car’s cassette player, the album played from start to finish as some barkada members — a few of whom would become radio DJs and music journalists — pointed out Sting’s delving into psychology and Carl Jung’s theory of synchronicity in the songs’ lyrics.

There were no heavy intellectual discussions, though, since whatever “concept” was mentioned in the album (like in the track “Synchronicity I”), would be lost in space the next minute, as herbal delights were passed around at the parking lot.

The rest of the songs were thoroughly engaging with their stories of suburban families (“Synchronicity II”), dinosaurs (“Walking in Your Footsteps”), romantic obsession (“Every Breath You Take”), desolation and sadness (“King of Pain”), overbearing influence (“Wrapped Around Your Finger”), maternal attachment (“Mother,” humorously written by Police guitarist Andy Summers), and exotic settings (“Tea in the Sahara”).

Summers’ restrained but spot-on licks, drummer Stewart Copeland’s driving, complex rhythms, and Sting’s steady, commanding bass lines and high-pitched, whispery vocals combined to make The Police among the rock bands which helped the college buddies “survive” 1983.

The year was crucial in the context of the Aquino assassination and the crisis that gripped the country, which spilled over to DLSU as it suspended classes time and again to give way to rallies in Ayala and Liwasang Bonifacio.

By 1985 school was getting to be a drag, but outside the classroom there was cause for excitement as Sting released his debut solo album, The Dream of the Blue Turtles. It sounded different. While there was still reggae (“Love is the Seventh Wave”) and some flirting with techno-funk (“If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free”), it became apparent that Sting had rekindled his love for jazz — the music he played on weekends in the early 1970s with his earliest bands, while teaching schoolkids and studying in college on weekdays.

The title track was a lively jazz jaunt, and Sting tapped Branford Marsalis to play sax in “Moon Over Bourbon Street” and “Fortress Around Your Heart.”

Marsalis stayed on for Sting’s 1987 album, … Nothing Like the Sun, and pretty soon fans were referring to the rock star as a jazz musician while turning on to “Englishman in New York.”

As the ’80s ended, Sting remained prolific, releasing more jazz via The Soul Cages (1991) and Ten Summoner’s Tales (1993). Somehow, the college buddies lost touch with Sting in the 2000s until he came into their lives again, up close and personal in concert twice — at the Araneta Coliseum in 2012, and at the Marriott Hotel in 2016.

In both occasions, some of the college schoolmates met up and relived old times as Sting played mostly Police hits. The artist, then already in his 60s, looked fabulously fit with a toned physique in an old T-shirt, jeans, and battered boots.

Just a few days ago, Sting was back in Manila to play two dates at the Theater at Solaire. Though visibly aging, he looked comfy in his favorite outfit: tight-fitting old T-shirt and jeans, and black boots.

His voice, a bit gruff at the start of every song, was still classic Sting as he took the audience on a musical time travel through some of the best tracks in the extensive Police discography (a delight to hear “Message in a Bottle” and “So Lonely”) and his own repertoire (“Fields of Gold,” “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You,” “Fragile,” among them).

Accompanied by Dominic Miller (guitar), Josh Freese (drums), Rufus Miller (guitar), Kevon Webster (keyboard), Shane Sager (harmonica) as well as Melissa Musique and Gene Noble (backing vocals), Sting played bass and sang 20 songs that reminded a member of the ’80s college buddies how music could be a lifesaver amid the trials of tumultuous times.

In the encore, somebody in the crowd shouted “Roxanne,” but Sting gestured he might not be able to reach the original key — and yet he proceeded to sing it anyway as Miller started playing the opening chords. Moments prior, he sneaked in a few lines from Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry.”

We wanted to light up a joint amid all that fun.